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Chapter 6 Positive traits and motives
Positive Psychology Chapter 6 Positive traits and motives
Positive traits and motives
Learning objectives Trait theories of personality and personal strengths Motives as personal strengths Implications Controversies Summary Questions Further reading Measures for use in research Glossary
Learning objectives Be able to describe trait theories of personality, notably the five factor theory. Be able to give an account of the assessment of trait-related strengths and the genetic and environmental basis for them. Understand the lifespan development of trait-related strengths, resilient personality profiles and the neurobiological basis for trait-related strengths. Be able to distinguish between trait-like and state-like motives. Appreciate how trait-like n10tives can be regarded as personal strengths and that particular constellations of state-like motives facilitate subjective well-being. Understand the clinical implications of research on traits and motive-related strengths for facilitating happiness. Be able to identify research questions that need to be addressed to advance our understanding of traits and motive-related strengths on the one hand and happiness on the other.
Glossary Achievement motive. An implicit, trait-like motive shown by a preference to work hard to reach high standards. Affiliation motive. An implicit, trait-like motive shown by a preference to be involved in warm, intimate interpersonal relationships. Agreeableness. A trait characterized by trust and altruism. Altruism. ,An implicit, trait-like motive shown by a preference to increase the welfare of another person. Conscientiousness. A trait characterized by self-discipline and competence. Extraversion. A trait characterized by sociability and seeking excitement. Motives. Implicit or explicit dispositions that energize us to pursue particular sets of goals.
Neuroticism. A trait characterized by anxiety, depression and self-regulation difficulties.
Openness to experience. A trait characterized by willingness to explore novel thoughts, values, feelings and situations. Personal action constructs. Explicit and conscious state-like motives including current concerns, personal projects, life tasks and personal strivings. Power motive. An implicit, trait-like motive shown by a preference to have an impact on others through attaining high status. Temperament. The characteristic affective response style which is present from infancy and due to predominantly constitutional or hereditary factors. Traits. Relatively enduring personal characteristics, which, along with situational variables, influence behavior, cognition and affect.
An important body of empirical research on positive traits and motives has developed which is of relevance to positive psychology. This research points to links between certain traits, and motives on the one hand and personal strengths or subjective well-being on the other. Traits and emotions are complex constructs so let us begin by defining these terms.
Traits Traits are relatively enduring personal characteristics, which along with situational variables, influence behavior, cognition and affect. For example, if we have a high level of the trait of conscientiousness we will tend to complete academic assignments or occupational tasks in a reliable and punctual way. Personality traits differ from states. Traits, such as conscientiousness, are enduring. States, in contrast, are transitory and situation specific. For example, 'being busy' is a state. In this chapter our focus will be on the five-factor trait theory of personality, since this currently is one of the most influential and parsimonious trait theories (McCrae and Costa, 1999).
Motives Motives are dispositions that energize us to pursue particular sets of goals. For example, if we have a strong intimacy motive we strive to form close interpersonal relationships. Motives that are enduring and trait-like, such as the intimacy motive, or more transient and state-like, have been identified. Striving to ask a prospective romantic partner for a date is an example of a more transient state-like motive. In this chapter, frameworks for conceptualizing enduring and transient positive motives will be addressed. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and metamotivational states associated with reversal theory which are particularly relevant to the study of flow experiences have already been discussed in Chapter 2.
Trait theories of personality and personality and personal strengths
Trait theories argue that a limited number of dimensions may be used to characterize important aspects of behavior and experience. Implicit in such theories is the idea that a person's status on some, or all, of these traits may be associated with certain personal strengths. Traits are normally distributed within the population. So for any given trait (for example extraversion) most people show a moderate level of the trait, but a few people show extremely low or extremely high levels of the trait. In recent years trait theory has come to be dominated by the Five-Factor Model of Personality (McCrae and Costa, 1999). This model includes the following dimensions: neuroticism: extraversion; openness to experience; agreeableness: and conscientiousness. 183.jpg
Assessment of trait-related strengths
Personality questionnaires and adjective checklists have been developed to evaluate the five factors of the Five-Factor Model. The five factors and the six facets associated with each of these may be assessed with the 240-item Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), (Costa and McCrae, 1992). The five factors, but not their facets, can be assessed with the briefer 60-item NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), (Costa and McCrae, 1992). Goldberg (1992) has developed 100-unipolar item and 50-bipolar item trait descriptive adjective checklists to assess the five factors. Oliver John has developed a brief 44-item Big Five Inventory which includes very brief items each containing a single adjective (John and Srivastava, 1999). The Interpersonal Adjective Scale provides a system for assessing the Big Five factors in a way that is consistent with the circumplex model of interpersonal behavior (Wiggins, 1995) All of these instruments have good reliability and validity (John and Srivastava, 1999).
Genetic and environmental basis for trait-related strengths
An important question concerns the determinants of the strengths entailed by personality traits. Are these strengths innate and/or learned through a process of socialization? The weight of evidence from twin studies shows that 50 per cent of the variance in extraversion and neuroticism and 40 percent of the variance in agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience may be accounted for by genetic factors (Plomin and Caspi, 1999). Thus, the variance in the trait-related strengths listed in Table 6.1 is due to approximately equal proportions of genetic and environmental factors.
Lifespan development of trait-related strengths
The way personal strengths associated with personality traits develop over the lifespan is a central concern. Research on temperament and its links to personality traits throws some light on this issue. Personality traits are underpinned by temperamental characteristics, and continuities have been identified between early temperamental profiles and later personality trait profiles (Rothbart and Ahadi, 1994). Temperament refers to the characteristic affective response style which is present from infancy and due to predominantly constitutional or hereditary factors. 186.jpg jpg
Strengths of the resilient personality profile
Trait theory has led to the identification of a highly resilient personality profile, that is a profile which entails many personal strengths. Typological studies repeatedly identify three profiles associated with the Five-Factor Model. These are the resilient, overcontrolled and undercontrolled profiles (John and Srivastava, 1999). Resilient individuals show positive adjustment on all five factors. Overcontrolled people have high levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness coupled with low extraversion. Undercontrolled people have high scores on neuroticism, and low scores on agreeableness and conscientiousness. This profile is associated with delinquency.
Personality traits and well-being
Studies of the links between subjective well-being defined in both hedonic or eudaimonic terms show clear links between these constructs and personality dimension of the Big Five Model. In a meta-analysis of 197 samples containing over 40,000 adults, DeNeve and Cooper (1998) found that hedonically defined subjective well-being was consistently related to extraversion, emotional stability (the high functioning pole of the neuroticism dimension) and agreeableness. In a study of middle-aged adults, the relationship between the Big Five personality traits and the six dimensions of Carol Ryfffs eudaimonic model of psychological well-being, Schmutte and Ryff (1997) found distinctive personality correlates for all dimensions of the model. Self-acceptance, environmental mastery and purpose in life were linked with emotional stability, extraversion and conscientiousness. Personal growth was linked with openness to experience and extraversion. Positive relations with others was linked with agreeableness and extraversion. Autonomy was linked with emotional stability.
Neurobiological basis for trait-related strengths
Research on the neurobiological basis of personal strengths associated with personality traits is still in its early stages. Professor Richard Depue (1996) at Cornell University, New York, in a synthesis of biological approaches to personality trait theory and a large body of empirical evidence from human and animal studies, argues that distinctions may be made between three neurobiological systems which roughly correspond to personality traits within the three- and five-factor models. The personality traits are extraversion, psychoticism, and neuroticism in Eysenck's system. In the Five-Factor Model they are extraversion, a combination of conscientiousness and agreeableness and neuroticism. Depue's synthesis builds on the earlier work of Professors Hans Eysenck (1967, 1990) and Jeffrey Gray (1987) in London and entails hypotheses about the possible neurobiological basis for trait-related strengths.
Motives as personal strengths
Motives to pursue particular sets of goals may be viewed as personal strengths if these motives lead to positive outcomes. It was noted earlier that distinctions may be made between transient state-like motives (such as wanting to go sailing after work) and enduring motives (such as the need for achievement).
Trait-like motives Of the many trait-like motives that have been identified, those for affiliation or intimacy, power and achievement have consistently emerged as three of the most important and are associated with significant personal strengths (Emmons, 1997; McClelland, 1985). Altruism, a uniquely positive motive, also deserves consideration in this context (Batson et al., 2002; Schulman, 2002).
Affiliation motive The affiliation intimacy motive is a recurrent preference for warm, close interpersonal communication as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end. If we have strong intimacy motives we are primarily concerned with making and maintaining close interpersonal relationships. The outcomes of acting upon this motive include developing a strong social support network, which in turn is a buffer against stress and conducive to good mental and physical health (Emmons, 1997). In this sense the intimacy is an extraordinarily positive form of trait-like motivation and an important personal strength.
Achievement motive The achievement motive is a recurrent preference for working to very high standards. If we have strong achievement motivation, we work hard to achieve excellence. This motive in part is responsible for outstanding contributions in the arts, sciences, technology and industry (Emmons, 1997). So the achievement motive is a positive form of motivation also.
Power motive The power motive is a recurrent preference to have an impact on others through attaining high status. People with strong power motives devote much energy to attaining prestige. They select people with low power motives as friends and are extremely sexually promiscuous. The power motive is important in some instances for successful leadership. Where such leadership produces positive outcomes for the group being led. the power motive may be viewed as a positive channeling of aggression into activities that may serve the greater good (Emmons, 1997). However, the power motive is associated with exploitation of those with low power motives and it is also associated with sexual exploitation, so it is not always a virtuous form of motivation.
Altruism(1) Behavior is motivated by altruism if our ultimate goal is to increase the welfare of another person. Altruistic motivation is defined by the intention of improving another person's situation, for that reason alone, and not for ulterior self-serving motives. The altruistic motive is distinct from egoistic motives which may also energize helpful behavior. Altruistic motivation is evoked in many instances by empathic emotion, that is by the emotional reaction we have to seeing another person in distress and needing help. This emotional reaction is synonymous with sympathy, compassion and tenderness. Professor C. Daniel Batson and his colleagues have shown in a series of carefully designed experiments that altruistic helping behavior is a response evoked by empathic emotion rather than the result of one of three types of egoistic motives. These are:
Altruism(2) 1. helping others so as to reduce aversive arousal associated with seeing others in distress; 2. helping others in need so as to avoid guilt, shame or social punishment for not doing so; and 3. helping others so as to obtain praise, honor, a sense of pride or personal joy. (Batson, 1991: Batson et al., 2002)
State-like motives and subjective well-being
Motivation to follow particular courses of action may be conceptualized as being determined not only by implicit, broadband, trait-like motives, but also by explicit narrowband, state-like motives. Research on the role of state-like motives in promoting subjective well-being and happiness is of particular relevance to positive psychology, since particular characteristics of state-like motives, discussed later in this section, are associated with subjective well-being. State-like motives, or personal action constructs as they are typically called, include current concerns, personal projects, life tasks, and personal strivings. These four different ways of conceptualizing personal action constructs have been developed by different groups of researchers, but have much in common (Emmons, 1997; Little, 1999).
Assessment of motives Trait-like motives may be assessed in a variety of ways, although content analysis of transcripts has been the most popular way of evaluating these motives (Smith, 1992; Winter, 1991). Transcripts of imaginative stories made in response to picture cards from the Thematic Apperception Test have been widely used, although Winter (1991) has developed a system for coding motives from speeches and personal documents, a system which permits motives to be coded from archival material. These indirect approaches to assessing affiliation, achievement and power motives are based on the assumption that people are not always conscious of the degree to which these three motives determine their behavior. Trait-like motives may operate unconsciously or outside awareness and so self-report inventories have not been the main way of assessing these motives.
Implicit and explicit motives
Implicit, trait-like motives, assessed through content analysis of responses to picture cards from the Thematic Apperception Test or personal documents and speeches have been found to differ in a number of important ways from explicit state-like motives or personal action constructs (McClelland et al., 1989; Kihlstrom, 1999). Implicit motives are largely unconscious whereas explicit motives are conscious. Implicit motives are more strongly related to long-term behavioral trends whereas explicit motives are more strongly related to immediate choices. Explicit self-attributed motives are aroused by extrinsic social demands whereas implicit motives are aroused by intrinsic task incentives. Measures of implicit and explicit motives have low correlations with each other, and McClelland et al. (1989) argue that this is because there are two distinct motive systems.
Implications A summary of self-help strategies for promoting strengths and enhancing subjective well-being based on research on traits, motives and emotions is given in Table 6.3. These can be incorporated into clinical practice.
Controversies The main controversy in the field of trait personality theory concerns the most parsimonious and valid number of personality traits. Eysenck (1990) has proposed a 3-trait model while Cattell's (1990) model of normal personality contains 16 primary traits (including intelligence). The differences between these extreme positions is due in part to differences in the factor analytic methods used and the range of items analyzed. The Five-Factor Model represents a compromise between the extreme positions of Eysenck and Cattell. 197.jpg
Summary (1) There are links between certain traits and motives on the one hand and personal strengths or subjective well-being on the other. Traits are relatively enduring personal characteristics which influence behavior. In recent years trait theory has come to be dominated by the Five-Factor Model of Personality which includes stability (neuroticism), extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, and all are associated with facets that may be considered as personal strengths. These may be reliably assessed with inventories and rating scales. Fifty per cent of the variance in extraversion and neuroticism and 40 per cent of the variance in agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience may be accounted for by genetic factors.
Summary (2) Evidence from longitudinal studies supports the link between temperament and personality traits. Overall, personality traits are fairly constant across the lifespan. Typological studies repeatedly identify a resilient profile associated with high scores on all traits within the Five-Factor Model. Distinctions may be made between three neurobiological systems broadly associated with specific personality traits. The behavioral facilitation system or reward system is associated with extraversion. Its function is to energize reward-seeking behavior. The constraint system modulates impulsive reward-seeking behavior and corresponds to a combination of the traits of conscientiousness and agreeableness. The third system, which may be referred to as the punishment system, is associated with neuroticism. Its function is to distinguish threatening from non-threatening stimuli and to inhibit behavior that may lead to punishment.
Questions: Personal development questions
Complete a copy of a five-factor personality inventory. Score and interpret it following instructions in the manual. 2. What trait-related strengths have you identified in doing this exercise? 3. What steps can you take to use these strengths more frequently in your life? 4. What would be the costs and benefits of taking these steps? 5. Take some of these steps and assess the impact it has on your well-being by assessing yourself before and afterwards on one of the well-being scales contained in Chapter 1.
Questions: Research questions
1. Set up a series of hypotheses about possible relationships between the traits in the Five-Factor Model and the 24 strengths assessed by the Values in Action Inventory listed in Table 2.1. Design and conduct a study to test these hypotheses. 2. Conduct Psych Info searches covering literature published in the past couple of years using the terms relevant to issues covered in this chapter. such as 'Five-Factor', 'Big Five', 'altruism', 'affiliation motive'. 'achievement motivation', and 'power motive' combined with terms such as happiness and well-being. Identify a study that interests you and that' is feasible to replicate and extend. Conduct the replication.
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